Establishing A Research-Practice Partnership To Improve Early Care and Education Supports Within Quality Start Los Angeles

Partnership Insights and Lessons Learned

by Anamarie A. Whitaker, Celia J. Gomez, Jill S. Cannon

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Research Questions

  1. What did a developmental evaluation of QSLA components (including coaching, assessment technical assistance, and early learning providers' perceptions of their QSLA quality tier ratings) reveal about how best to establish a RPP?
  2. What are the lessons learned for other researchers, particularly those partnering with early childhood organizations, as they work to implement RPPs?

In 2018, the RAND Corporation entered into a research-practice partnership (RPP) with Quality Start Los Angeles (QSLA), Los Angeles County's quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) for early learning providers serving children from birth to age 5. RAND conducted a developmental evaluation of selected QSLA components, including coaching, assessment technical assistance, and early learning providers' perceptions of their QSLA quality tier ratings. This report provides insights into the strengths and challenges from the developmental evaluation, and lessons learned from the RPP. The authors present recommendations to help other partnerships—particularly those with multi-organization systems—establish strong and open relationships that can positively influence evidence-based decisionmaking, and ultimately improve child and youth outcomes.

Key Findings

  • The RPP included a leadership team, composed of multiple members for each lead organization/agency; this collaborative structure contributed to the success of the partnership.
  • The strong partnerships established and the consistent maintenance of relationships through meetings and sharing of research materials led to successful data collection efforts that yielded useful and relevant information for QSLA leaders.
  • Understanding which QSLA stakeholders to include in advisory roles took time and more members were added to the advisory committee after the first few initial meetings.
  • QSLA sensemaking participants and the leadership team viewed disseminating findings from research activities through various memos and presentations as a generally successful aspect of the partnership.
  • Developmental evaluations are dynamic by design, and the rapid feedback and evolving nature is mostly beneficial; however, at times findings were presented based on data collected from a version of the QSLA model or model components that had already changed.


  • Establish an RPP leadership team that includes multiple members from each lead organization.
  • Develop clear roles, expectations, and levels of engagement for each member of the RPP, no matter the expected level of contribution or engagement.
  • Create a diverse advisory group that meets regularly.
  • Consider having researchers and practice partners jointly host a kickoff meeting where expectations are presented and an overview of the planned study is provided.
  • Develop a communication plan for targeted audiences.
  • Work to develop relationships beyond the RPP leadership team.
  • Leverage connections with practice partners to reach potential research participants.
  • Engage the advisory group to discuss current challenges or issues.
  • Build in additional time for potential project delays.
  • Ensure the goal of partnership or particular evaluation is known to implementation partners and research participants.
  • Create thorough data analysis memos that RPP members can refer back to throughout the partnership.
  • Consider creating rapid feedback memos that span multiple topic areas, if applicable.
  • Develop sensemaking questions for practitioners and policymakers to react to.
  • Hold frequent meetings with a broad group of stakeholders.
  • Provide opportunities for practitioners and policymakers to form recommendations from findings.

Research conducted by

This study was sponsored by First 5 Los Angeles and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

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